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Grassley Cites University of Texas Researcher for Paxil Conflict

Sep 12, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Frequent Paxil critic Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has cited a University of Texas researcher  for failing to disclose payments from GlaxoSmithKline when she worked on a federally-funded study that involved the company's antidepressant.  

In a speech on the Senate floor he delivered Tuesday, Grassley cited Dr. Karen Wagner, a professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.  According to Grassley, Wagner had worked on a National Institutes of Health (NIH) - funded studies on depression. These studies involved Paxil and Prozac; an antidepressant made by Eli Lilly.  Wagner was also one of the authors on a Paxil study known as Study 329, which was  published in 2001.

In his speech, Grassley said that Study 329 had been cited in a New York case where GlaxoSmithKline was charged with “repeated and persistent fraud.” Part of the case against Glaxo was that the drug company promoted positive findings but didn’t publicize unfavorable data, particularly data which involved suicide risks.  

Grassley said that in  March 2006,  when Wagner was being deposed in a case on Paxil, she was asked how much money she had taken from drug companies over the previous five years.  Her response was that she did not know.  

But Grassley does.  In his speech, the Senator said that according to Glaxo,  Wagner was paid over $53,220 in 2000. In 2001, when study 329 was published, the company reported paying her $18,255.

Grassley also criticized a second University of Texas Researcher, Dr. John Rush.  In 2003-2005, Rush received an NIH grant to conduct a clinical training program that dealt with, among other things, medical ethics.  According to Grassley, just two years before getting the federal grant, Rush failed to report all of the money that Eli Lilly paid him. Rush disclosed $3,000 in payments from the company, but Eli Lilly reported to Grassley that Rush  was actually paid $17,802 in 2001.

Universities are supposed to monitor conflicts when their researchers receive NIH grants, and the NIH is supposed to monitor conflicts, at least involving payments exceeding $10,000 over a 12-month period.  Despite these guidelines, Grassley said that the University of Texas Medical Branch didn’t require their physicians to disclose their financial relationships with the drug industry, until around 2002.

As the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley has been on a crusade to curb the financial ties between the pharmaceutical industry and medical research.  In his Paxil probe, Grassley’s has criticized other institutions, including Harvard and Stanford, for similar conflicts.  The committee on which he serves has contacted 20 universities over questions of potential conflict of interest with drug makers.  


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